Loki Preview (PC)

Plundering the depths of mythology for computer game inspiration has apparently reached an impasse, and no single belief system can now provide enough original fodder to support a full development. To counter act this, Loki - the new RPG from Cyanide – has taken most every deity you can think of and pitted them against each other in an intriguing, celestial battle royal.

It’s said that a movie can have two complex aspects out of the three necessary parts of a production; the characters, the story and the narrative. For example, if a film has a complex story and complex narrative, the characters must be simple, otherwise the audience will have too much to absorb in the short viewing time and feel frustrated with the experience. A good example of just such a movie would be Lord of the Rings; the characters, despite being in such a massive and intricate epic, are incredibly simple. Because of this, we’re able to properly appreciate the vast and elaborate story, enjoying it without being overwhelmed.

While this isn’t an established approach to game design, it’s clear that any form of entertainment medium would be well advised to adopt such principles designed to enrapture an audience, and it would seem that Cyanide have taken just such an approach with Loki.

Pretty standard fare in terms of a hack’n’slash RPG, Loki has a rather elaborate (and often unpronounceable) back story which attempts to introduce several millennia of religious ethos from all over the globe; including Greek, Norse (obviously), Egyptian and even Aztec! These belief systems and their multitude of pantheons then had their stories rewritten and woven together; forming a kind of divine community of warring factions, each divided into various good and bad splinter groups.

It would seem that Seth (traditionally the Egyptian God of the Desert) has become thoroughly evil, and it’s reached a point where the rest of the divine collective feel it necessary to intervene. Although it gets a little involved trying to decipher quite what Seth’s attempting to achieve (and why), there are some nice plot developments which add genuine entertainment value, such as the political intrigue which develops when the Egyptian god allies himself with Spanish conquistadors so he can make a move on the South American territory.

These territories are split up into four “realms”, for want of a more game-centric connotation, which form the levels of the game and are tied to the story so neatly as to prohibit any feeling of being a pretext to varying environments. Much of Loki is structured in a similar, transparent manner - to the French developer’s credit. When thoroughly dissected, there’s really nothing remarkable about Loki, but the various elements of its production (particularly characterisation and plot, which far too many games overlook) grant the game a professional sheen that belies its inherent unoriginality.

The selectable characters are nicely varied and chosen from different historical pantheons, but when subtly examined, it becomes clear we’ve been provided with the staple diet of all good dungeon running RPGs; the warrior (a Norse berserker), the mage (an Egyptian sorcerers), the elf (a Greek hunter) and the wizard (an Aztec shaman). Each of these characters fit one of the realms quite perfectly, being ideally suited for the battles and environments of that specific level.

This is a clever, if somewhat languid, method of introducing the game to a new player. Since each character begins in their homeland, the hack’n’slash, labyrinth-creeping gameplay is naturally simpler, though once taken out of their natural environment, it falls to the player to improve their skills. This also creates a cyclical storyline; allowing a pretty standard linear story to begin and end in different places, as each character begins at a different point then plays through the remaining levels. Undoubtedly this somewhat antiquated method of infusing a story into a game is the reason such tightly developed plot lines can be included, though the subtlety with which it’s handled certainly doesn’t make it feel as though players are being given a simple, straight line, single plot, one ending story. Even though they are.

While definitely not breaking down any RPG or fighting game barriers, Loki definitely succeeds in refining the genre to allow for maximum action and minimal logistics. The worlds are large, but teleport systems reduce any irksome, uneventful expeditions allowing players to cut straight to the good stuff. Some might see it as being dumbed down, but I for one appreciate not spending a third of my game time drudging between action scenes.

Level increases are included, though again they’ve been stripped back to their core essences; uncomplicated and accessible. Ideal for the casual twitch gamer, this title is more than capable of expanding their horizons. Loki would make the perfect bridge for a casual fighting game enthusiast tempted, but unsure, as to whether they’d be interested in World of Warcraft, or some similar MMOG. Loki is replete with similar elements, distilled to their basic purpose and infused with action. Indeed, a promise of six-player online action has been made, suggesting Loki could actually be a well-rounded Mini Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.

At this early stage, there does seem to be some small graphical and camera issues and occasional slow-down (on a mid level PC), though this isn’t unusual for preview code. If they aren’t addressed before release, however, I could certainly see them costing review points, but that’s a discussion for another day. August 24th, to be precise. Check back soon for a more detailed exploration of the global pantheon.